TIE Podcast Fall Semester Preview: Dr. Adriene Lim on Academic Library Leadership and the Bamboo Ceiling

Asian American library leader in front of a library shelf under a banner that reads library leadership and the bamboo ceiling

TIE’s third fall semester podcast is now available in full! In this episode, Dr. Adriene Lim delves into how she got her start in academic librarianship, beginning with her love of libraries as a child. She then discusses her trajectory to leadership positions, how she navigates the field as a BIPOC, and her strategies for overcoming systemic obstacles that can hinder career advancement for people of Asian descent, a phenomenon known as the bamboo ceiling. 

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Dr. Adriene Lim on Academic Library Leadership and the Bamboo Ceiling
headshot of Adriene Lim
Dr. Adriene Lim

Dr. Lim is presently Dean of Libraries and Professor of the Practice in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, she served as Dean of Libraries and Philip H. Knight Chair at the University of Oregon and the Dean of Libraries at Oakland University in Michigan. Early in her career she was the Systems Librarian/Head of Database Management for the Detroit Area Library Network. Highly active in the field of librarianship, Dr. Lim also serves as Chair of the Center of Research Libraries’ board and as a member of U.S. Government Publishing Office’s Task Force on an All-Digital Federal Depository Library Program. She holds a PhD in library and information science (LIS) from Simmons University.

Acknowledging the difficulties inherent to leadership positions, Adriene shares helpful strategies for professional development and lays out the skills needed to succeed. She digs even further into the importance of authenticity and how leaning into one’s unique experiences and abilities and leading from a place of authenticity can enhance the field and help break down the barriers that may keep BIPOC librarians from advancing to positions of leadership.

We hope you enjoy this uplifting interview with Dr. Adriene Lim.

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On carving out time for professional development:

“That is a tough, tough, tough dilemma. And I will always admit to certain privileges and differences I have, and one of those is, you know, [that] I chose to be child-free in my life. Sometimes I look at some of my colleagues, women, who have families and I wonder, how do you do it, how do you carve out time? But with that said, the jobs could consume all of us, I’m talking not just [about] leaders, but all of us in libraries. I mean the complexity of our jobs just keeps exponentially growing and all because of our service ethic and what we do, information, the boundaries are kind of fuzzy these days, so we belong in a lot of arenas and that means time is very constrained too. But with that said then, one just really has to prioritize and focus and try to say “no” on occasion to some service opportunities, some other tasks, where one can [in order] to take care of oneself. In a way, you [could] think about it as a self-care moment, in this case, self-care professionally. That unless we refresh ourselves and really do some deeper work, let’s say you want to write an essay or you want to read a book that really helps you or take a course online, I think we have to carve that time out and if something otherwise has to wait or be put on hold, it just has to be done. Time is finite, so we can’t do it all … I do think that more of us maybe, including myself, could do well with really planning out the next few years; plans that are flexible, but think[ing] that far ahead maybe and even ask yourself, what is it that I truly want? And then scaffold onto that until you get there.”

On the bamboo ceiling phenomenon and how to circumvent it:

“One thing that I was noticing a lot in my earlier career, when those colleagues—mostly they were usually white men who did it, [though] I’m not saying all—you would contribute something and then they would repeat what you said like it was theirs and the whole table would say, yes, yes, I agree. And of course, many of us have experienced that … I’d sit back and I’d think too about … why they did that, how they did that, and it made me realize that some speak up at the table just to have their voices heard, it didn’t even matter the substance of what they were saying. So, I started watching that and thinking … [about] how I shared when I had something significant to say and … I realized, no, I’m going to start adapting and doing that and seeing if it makes a difference … Another thing I would do [is], if someone did try to take my idea and repeat it, I would take my next opportunity at that same meeting to … try and reclaim it. Another lesson, if I saw it happening to other women or people of color, [I would] be the voice to amplify their voice … I have found that it is good to reach out and find a sponsor, ask them to be your sponsor, find a good mentor. As I said, start watching those who maybe you admire their successes and adapt to maybe try out some of their techniques.”

On confidence-building and its importance to DEIA work:

“By the time you are candidate in a [job] search, people are pretty much confident that you’re going to be able to do the job. What they want to know is, what are you bringing [that is] uniquely different that is going to make you a better candidate … There [are] more risks for us as BIPOC people to share on that level … we maybe [don’t] feel confident to share some of our personal background, could it be too much, could it just show our difference too much. But I started thinking, this is hurting the candidates somewhat because the other candidates who happen to be white, let’s say, [are sharing] and the other people [relate] to them more … Then that all made me reflect back to my own self and think, I need to start talking more about what brought me to this place and my background and my experiences and how that is different from other people … and it really could inform higher education, for example, and libraries. We often talk about transfer students, and first generation, and minoritized peoples, and here we go, many of us have that. So, if we hold it back and do not bring it to our leadership, for example, who is that serving? If we fought so hard to be there and yet we’re not sharing ourselves, I’m not sure that’s fulfilling for anybody.”

Read the corresponding Resources for Shattering the Bamboo Ceiling: Fall 2022 Edition

Watch the full video recording of the interview here

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Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice dvillavicencio@ala-choice.org with your topic idea.

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